YouTube in the Video-Sharing ‘Soup’ With E!

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

E! Networks executive Suzanne Kolb was on the hunt. She needed to corral more homegrown videos for a segment on “The Soup,” one of the cable channel’s pop culture commentary shows.

During a February brainstorming session among E!’s marketing, programming and online departments, the solution became clear: YouTube.com. The video-sharing Web site’s popularity was exploding, rising to 13 million visitors in March from 571,000 in October.

Within a month the network and the upstart pulled together a deal for an online contest to generate videos for the “Cybersmack” segment of “The Soup.” The collaboration is among the first between Hollywood’s old guard and the online mavericks, suggesting a path for television networks trying to grab hip young audiences and video-sharing sites struggling to turn a profit.

“We wanted to be in this renegade space, but do it in a way that’s not too renegade,” said Ms. Kolb, E!’s executive VP of marketing and communications, of the collaboration with YouTube.

E!’s experiment with YouTube represents a shift in the television industry’s attitude toward video-sharing Web sites. While the upstarts still challenge networks by facilitating the uncontrolled spread of copyrighted shows, TV executives are finding ways to exploit the sites for material and talent. They can also use the sites to promote their television slates.

“The networks could theoretically create unique content and snippets of their offerings and seed it on platforms such as YouTube,” said T.S. Kelly, VP and director of research and insight for Media Contacts, the interactive arm of media agency MPG.

The YouTube deal gives E! exposure it couldn’t have received on its own, hooking into a site where each day users view 40 million videos, up from 3 million when the site officially launched in December. By comparison, E! averages about 300,000 viewers per day, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Linking up with E! gives YouTube, currently the most-visited video-sharing site, a way to reach new users and maintain its lead over competitors.

“We want to complement the industry and help them promote their TV programs and help them drive users back to watching TV,” said Julie Supan, senior director of marketing at YouTube.

YouTube also presumably wants to make money. Ms. Supan declined to provide information on the business’s sales and profit or the terms of its agreement with E! She sought to dispel reports that the company may be looking for a suitor.

“We are not looking for a quick exit for the company and are not for sale,” Ms. Supan said.

One obstacle to turning meaningful profits may be the proliferation of businesses, including Break.com and Heavy.com, that are all jockeying to be the video-sharing site of the moment.

The video deal works for E! because the downside and risk are minimal. The network maintains control of the clips submitted for the “Cybersmack” contest, which carries a $25,000 prize for the best video. By screening the entries, the network avoids airing indecent or copyrighted content.

“We aren’t just going to take anything sent to us and put it on the air and on the site,” Ms. Kolb said.

Cozying up to the online avant-garde has other benefits for networks because online video represents a new well of talent.

In early April Tony DiSanto, executive VP of series development and animation for MTV and MTV2, urged his programming development staff to begin scanning user-generated sites each day for the best content.

“As a development executive you have to keep your ears to the pavement, and this is now one of the areas you have to pay attention to, just like going to comedy clubs, listening to music, hearing pitches,” he said. “A lot of people can get their message out, but the cream still rises to the top.”

Viacom’s Comedy Central cable channel is also looking for talent online. Last month, the network partnered with iFilm, a video-sharing site owned by Viacom, to launch an online competition seeking “the next big broadband show.”

The winner receives a development deal for the network’s broadband channel MotherLoad. The network maintains some control over the contest because it will pick three submissions each week to be streamed on Comedycentral.com. The fans then get to have their say and vote online for four semifinalists.

E!’s foray into user-generated content follows the announcement last week by The CW, that it would invite viewers to put together homemade videos that will be broadcast as network promotional spots.

There are some online video renegades who say they don’t need the exposure that relationships with television networks can provide.

“In the realm of internet video media snacks, user-generated content has the upper hand,” said Arik Czerniak, CEO of Metacafe, a Web video site. “In this universe the old media companies have absolutely no advantage because of the huge numbers of user-generated content produced. The best of those are sure to trump most Hollywood-produced stuff.”

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